When it comes to sportswear, there are two different types of consumers: die-hard athletes and sneaker types. And while there isn’t a ton of overlap between these two camps, what unites them is a tendency toward snobbishness and selfishness, meaning most wouldn’t be caught to death in anything that matters. could be considered “children’s stuff”.
However, that kind of attitude gets old pretty quickly, and someone who knows it is the creative Kerwin Frost, aka the man behind a crazy new Adidas collection that thumbs its nose at any control or pretension. And from an anthropomorphic shoe called Human Chives to colorful shirts featuring a group of characters known as “Benchmates,” Frost’s collection is a refreshing and fun take on traditional athletic wear that falls somewhere in between a trip on acid and a kindergarten class.
That said, such a wonderfully wobbly collection deserves an equally playful theme song, which is where Kero Kero Bonito and “The Sneaker Dance” come in. Accompanied by a video clip directed by Industry Plant that is just as playful, colorful and bright as Frost’s creations, the visual matches the energy of KKB’s floating jingle, while bringing Miss Crocodile, Mr. Squirrel and LaKeith of the Benchmates.
So in honor of the clip’s premiere, PAPER sat down with Frost and Sarah Midori Perry and Gus Lobban from KKB to talk about the collection, the Benchmates and the importance of media for children, even for adults.
How was the collection born?
Kerwin Frost: I’ve wanted to work with Adidas for a long time and John Wexler – who had signed Kanye and was like Mr. Adidas – was always hooked up with kids doing things in New York City. I was very adamant about getting a deal, so I would see it and just be like, “Hey, this is what I want to do.” So eventually we got lucky like [Wexler was] leave Adidas. He kind of pushed us out the door and then left Adidas.
What inspirations and references influenced the aesthetics of the collection?
Kerwin: Just a lot of things that I grew up with… For example, the Benchmates were directly inspired by the types of characters you would see painted on the walls of playrooms in child care centers. If you ever go through a daycare, there will be all of these characters and some pirates that they’ll do just to throw in, and they’re always a bit stoic but friendly and, also, a bit weird. I love this juxtaposition… But the collection was also my way of seeing how I grew up and things that took me out of the dark world I came from.
What do you mean by “dark”?
Kerwin: I grew up on these projects in Harlem in social housing. It was a great community, but a lot of people come from these projects and feel indebted to them, so it’s all just a hamster wheel. And then two blocks from my house was Central Park, so this fucking treacherous neighborhood right across the sunny Central Park path and the lake, but no one wanted to cross it. It was so weird, like an invisible line that would only hold people back, but I think that line always made me want to go further… I was also a kid of the Internet, so I would take everything , but I think pop culture and everything has always been kind of an escape.
So what made KKB the perfect band to do this jingle?
Kerwin: I had listened to Kero Kero Bonito a lot working on the collection, and I always wanted to work with them. They are pioneers… sonically, aesthetically, everything, it has always been so original and so much them. [Their music] Always took me to this place which I really enjoyed because it felt authentic to me.
I asked them in 2019, when my daughter was going to be born, if they could do a children’s song, what a lot of people would expect from them. But I also like children’s music in general. i am a big fan of Yo Gabba Gabba and things like that. I don’t mean their music is children’s music, but I just thought it would be nice for my daughter.
How does your daughter like the song?
Kerwin: She’s a huge fan of the song. It grew so much inside her, like she knew all the words now. Before we go to bed, she’ll ask if we can watch “Sneaker Dance,” and we’re literally going to sit all the time and sing it… and she’ll say, “I want to go to ‘Sneaker Dance.’”
How collaborative was the writing and production process?
Gus Lobban: It was rather collaborative. Kerwin and I had been discussing this thing for quite a while, but it all fell into place pretty quickly. In the end, we just traded [a bunch of stuff], like we sent in a demo beat that was the initial seed, and it was just this arpeggiated Okinawa scale thing with the drums. And I think we also sent the melody of what became the chorus and talked about it a bit. But once you have that little seed, all that’s left is to flesh out the verses and lyrics, and make sure all the bells and whistles of the production are there.
[KKB’s Jamie Bulled] also did some writing on the song. In fact, one of Jamie’s trademark contributions was the counter-melody in the second chorus. I mean, we changed the notes together, but the idea, he wrote it down, basically.
Sarah Midori Perry: We ended up cutting it into just a few sessions at Gus’ house in Bromley, and it was like one of the first we faced after the lockdown. While in lockdown, I would record it for myself and send it to Gus, but doing this in real life was fun.
Sarah, what kind of elements did you want to bring to the song in terms of the lyrics and the vocal performance?
Sarah: When we were doing the vocals, I was trying to be that person who introduces the characters, like the Benchmates. It was really fun during the recording because I felt like I was telling this awesome world … and what also really helped me when we recorded the track was having the sneakers in front we.
Gus: We also wanted to make sure that all the right references were there. Because Kerwin gave us a lot of background information to write the lyrics, and I pretty much memorized everything like I was doing a school project or something, and the song is the result of those studies.
When you think of the world of sportswear and sneakerhead culture, you tend to think of people who take themselves very seriously. Meanwhile, everything about this project is so playful, colorful and bouncy, which is quite the 180. Were there any concerns about how it would be received, whether it was Adidas comments or outright consumer reviews?
Gus: I think the world of children’s media is really interesting. I mean, arguably, things like video games fit into that area, and it’s something that has greatly shaped our view of the world. But also the way in which a medium like The hungry caterpillar Where Yo Gabba Gabba can actually communicate concepts and ideas that more standard pop music cannot. It’s trying to communicate something that’s really important because that medium shapes our perception of everything like relationships, tastes and personality, so I think that’s a really important thing to do well. And I think people who are snobbish about children’s media are sort of falling into a trap.
Discover the Kerwin Frost x Adidas collection here.
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